How I Met the President

Recent events involving mobs and riots at our nation’s capitol and the extensive security precautions for the 2021 Inauguration reminded me of my opportunity to meet President Obama in 2012. It was during a campaign stop at the University of Iowa. I felt it would be interesting to share some of the behind-the-scenes activities involved in that visit.

“What’s your name?” asked President Obama.

“My name is Jim, Mr. President. It is an honor to meet you.” We stood close, arms around each others waists, and smiled for the official photographer. There was a flash of light.

“Thank you for your support and your hard work” he said.

“It is my pleasure, sir.” It was over and couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds.

I had just met President Obama. I worked hard for his re-election in 2012. Countless phone calls, letters to the editor, weekly team meetings, 1-on-1 meetings, conversations with friends, and efforts to recruit volunteers. I finally got to meet the man. It was over literally in a flash. I wish I could have talked with him over a beer or two.

I read in a news story the week before that President Obama might stop in Iowa City. I sent the news clip to Matt, my regional campaign coordinator. By the weekend, it was confirmed. Things happened fast. Matt called me and said “I have a ticket for you to meet the President next week. What’s your social security number?” That’s when it really struck me. Something special was in the works.

Photos and commentary about the Presidential visit are below. There was much security as with all his visits. Our county is a strong Democratic stronghold in a largely rural state. He needed our continued support for his re-election.

Matt told me to meet him at 11 AM at the Press Door of the venue. I had helped two years earlier at a similar Presidential visit. At that time, I assisted persons with disabilities as they entered that same door. For this visit, I left my car in a parking garage far from campus and walked to the building. As I neared, I saw press vehicles parked all over.

I was a little early. I looked around to see rows of photographic equipment and cases lined up on the sidewalk. A canine officer let the dog give them all a thorough smell test. Small groups of press were allowed to enter and go through the metal detectors and security check. There were officers and secret service all over the place.

Once all members of our group arrived, Matt checked our names on his list. A White House staffer brought us to the door and we went through security for our clearance. We went up stairs just outside the venue and stopped. He said that we should use the nearby restrooms now. We had about three hours before we could use them again. It would be much harder to arrange later when we were secured in our meeting room. As I waited, I turned and photographed the flag above the stage. The UI band played some rousing songs. People already filled the standing room only venue. Our group was headed for a room behind that stage set up for our meeting with the President.

By now it was about 11:30. The speech was at 1:00. The President was already on campus participating in a forum with students and staff on the subject of student loans and aid, the topic of his speech. I had heard parts of it on television in speeches he delivered in NC and CO.

Our group consisted of nearly 25 people who were to meet the President and have their pictures taken with him. Some were volunteers like me, county Democratic party officials, two state representatives, and three children. Before the President entered the room, we were asked by the staffer to get in a row around the room, to put our cameras in our pockets, and not to take pictures. The official photo would be mailed to each of us.

The President came into the room as we applauded. He went directly to the prepared blue curtain with the two flags seen at left in the above photo. The first person in our group walked over to the President. He asked for their name. They turned for the camera. He said thanks and the next person came up. This was an assembly line. When we were finished, we were directed out the door and around the corner to a space to the side of the stage where we waited for the President to come out and give his speech.

A few minutes later he was introduced by a student leader. The President walked by us on his way to the podium as the crowd cheered loudly.

He delivered his speech of about 40 minutes telling personal stories of the cost of education. The crowd empathized and was quite enthusiastic.  It was comprised mostly of college students. Scattered around were many parents who had brought a son or daughter such as this pair a few feet from me. The boy payed close attention the whole time. I thought of our son who attended a similar event many years before.

The President ended his speech on a high note. The crowd cheered while the band played. He went to the front of the stage to do some hand shaking and headed back in our direction. As he neared, I got a couple of final pictures of him greeting supporters. Of course, Secret Service agents were sharp-eyed and watching carefully. Did I mention before how they were all over the place?

13 thoughts on “How I Met the President

  1. Very impressive story. Rahm Emanuel once rang my doorbell, the first time he ran for Congress. My dad answered and talked with him on our porch for a few minutes. I saw him through the window. That was the closest I ever got to a politician. 🙂

    • My wife and I got a good laugh from your comment. Thanks. You are probably safer for maintaining your political distance. 🙂

      • I also did see Roland Burris once jaywalk across Madison Street in the heart of Chicago. He was in a three-piece suit. Someone (not me) shouted, “Roland!” He gave the biggest arm wave from a short guy I’ve ever seen.

        Burris was the temporary U.S. Senator after Obama vacated the Illinois seat for the Presidency.

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